Consider the following story as it relates to this week’s topic.
When our kids’ school switched to online learning, I thought it’d be for a short time. Now their school has extended it for the rest of the year, and I’m noticing just how much time they spend on their laptops and phones. At first, it was no big deal since they have nothing of great importance to do here at home other than schoolwork. But now my husband and I have noticed that they have even less motivation than usual and are often more bad-tempered. I think it has to do with all the time they spend online, especially playing video games, watching online videos, and Netflix. Is there anything we can do to keep this from getting worse?
Countless kids across the nation are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 lockdown. As a parent, have you noticed yours becoming incessantly glued to their screens due to school, boredom, or both? If so, it can be disconcerting, especially when you consider the possibility that so much screen time is contributing to kids becoming increasingly temperamental, less motivated, and even more irrational.
With schoolwork, it’s understandable for them to spend hours glued to their screens, but for other times, such as the evenings or weekends, it can be worrisome. If you’ve been wondering how to limit your child’s dependence on their screens, then our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa would like to share some insightful ideas on how to make that happen!
The Effects of Too Much Screen Time
According to psychiatrist and author Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., a child’s brain is much more sensitive to the power of the screen than most adults realize. Where parents may think interactive screen time is perfectly okay, it can potentially lead to issues with sleep, mood, and cognition. Dr. Dunckley breaks down the relationship between electronics use and mood disturbances in six “physiological mechanisms.”
- Melatonin, a sleep signal produced by darkness, is often blocked by light from screen devices. This can then lead to sleep disruption and desynchronization of the body clock.
- When a child wins in a video game, it releases dopamine that makes him/her feel good and plays a key role in focus and motivation, which is good. The problem is that when a child wins too much, it desensitizes the brain’s reward system, making it more difficult for children to experience that pleasure since they become used to the experience.
- Studies have linked the light-at-night phenomenon from electronics to depression and suicide.
- Too much screen time can induce stress reactions. Acute and chronic stress play an active role in the changes in brain chemistry and hormones, which is directly linked to an increase in irritability.
- An overloaded sensory system, fractured attention, and depleted mental reserves are just some of the effects of screen time according to experts in the field.
- The more time a child spends in front of a screen, the less they spend interacting with nature, other people in face-to-face situations, and being physically active, all of which can restore attention, reduce stress, and lower aggression.
The “Screen Diet”
As you can imagine, the best way to avoid or decrease the effects of screens is to go on a “screen diet.” Even children who are treated for mood dysregulation are usually required to reduce their use of electronics in conjunction with their traditional treatments. In a previous blog, we shared some ins-and-outs of our very own electronic diet:
- Lead by example by decreasing your own screen time.
- Teach your kids about the effects of the content they watch and why they should instead watch more appropriate content.
- Encourage your kids to spend time outside to recharge, especially now with so many stay-at-home orders in effect.
- Establish “no technology” areas in the house, like the dinner table or their bed.
- Turn any mistakes your child makes into a teachable moment. Don’t scold them if you catch them looking at a screen when they shouldn’t be. Instead, gently explain why they shouldn’t spend so much time on them.
You Can Count on Us
At Rice Psychology Group, we want to help you help your child live a positive life, especially with the events going on in the world right now. Even if you can’t make it to our office, we’ll provide you with the assistance you need from the comfort of your own home thanks to our online sessions. Get in touch with us today for more information!